Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

No turnstiles for SkyTrains until 2012

with 16 comments

Fare Gate at Wilshire/Normandie

Fare Gate at Wilshire/Normandie, Los Angeles

The CBC is reporting that not only will the Canada Line be turnstileless when it opens – so will SkyTrain for at least another three years. That is when a new smart card system might start to be implemented.

“We could see turnstiles starting to appear in the system by 2012,” Hardie told CBC News on Thursday.

“We hope to actually have some work done a little bit later that will lead to some contracts for not only turnstiles, but also the smart card system that complements the turnstile system.”

The turnstiles, regular readers will recall, were an obsession of the previous Minister of Transport Kevin Falcon. (He now overseeing the breaking of the election promise not to cut healthcare spending.) In his eyes turnstiles would eliminate crime on the transit system. It turns out of course that the two issues are not related. And even though Translink is strapped for cash, the turnstiles do not seem capable of doing much for cash flow either. They do not appear among the many revenue generating ideas that Translink has floated – but they will of course be a significant capital cost to introduce and a major addition to operating and  maintenance costs if they are indeed installed.

I suspect that if Translink does not get all of the new $450 m it is seeking, then this idea may well get quietly forgotten about. After all, since it will not actually increase net revenue  and does nothing to boost ridership, then plenty of other ideas will take precedence – especially if there is no political pressure to make it happen. And that pressure to be effective these days will have to come from Victoria, and they are going to have a great deal more important things to worry about in three years time, when a lot of chickens will be coming home to roost.

That does not mean necessarily that smart cards bite the dust either – but gates are not actually necessary with new technology. Indeed, for safety reasons, some systems with gates leave them open by default, and only close them if no valid media is present near them when somebody tries to get through. You can also use smart cards, proximity readers and mobile checkers in a gate free system and get very high levels of compliance – especially if the users have an incentive to use the readers, as they would with a fare by distance system. But that would require a complete reworking of the current system – which itself may or may not be worthwhile but is well beyond the scope of this post.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 14, 2009 at 9:56 am

16 Responses

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  1. What would be more helpful for Translink is the province actually returning ticket fine revenue for fare evasion to the transportation authority.

    Unlike ticket revenue collected my municipal police forces, which as we know Campbell made a very public announcement a few years ago that 100% was going to be returned to the municipalities, all fare enforcement revenue simply flows to the provincial general revenues.

    So under such setup, what incentive is there for Translink to increase fare enforcement? It costs them money to hire more police but it seems none of the revenue from tickets issued. This is the biggest hindrance to increased safety and greater fare compliance.

    Yet this fact is rarely spoken of publicly. That Campbell and his gang are quietly skimming money off of Translink for policing work Translink is baring the cost for.

    Matthew Laird

    August 14, 2009 at 10:30 am

  2. Matthew – not much revenue is accrued from the tickets that are issued since very few are actually paid, and there is not much follow up either. Yes it would work better if Translink got the revenue – but I would suggest that “penalty fares” collected on the spot would be better revenue earners. This then avoids the overloaded court system altogether. Of course, fines could remain an option without the funds to pay – but good luck on collecting any fines from the indigent!

    Stephen Rees

    August 14, 2009 at 10:37 am

  3. One solution to this “problem” is to check fares more often. Then the sentiment will be “why do they check fares so often — everyone seems to have a valid fare?” instead of the current “they never check fares so there must a lot of freeloaders.”

    Look at the Seattle LRT — people are commenting on how often they get checked.

    Sungsu

    August 14, 2009 at 10:48 am

  4. Maybe this is one of the efficiencies found in review of translink expenses. I don’t see any gates being installed before extension of the expo line platforms is done.

    In terms of increasing fare revenue, most proof of payment systems rely on regular fare checks, and on-the-spot fines. I’m not sure of the legality of this in Canada though.

    Having the police conduct the fare checks limits the amount being performed and increases costs. If they went to a penalty fare, couldn’t they go back to using attendants to conduct checks, with the police available to assist or issue the provincial fines for non payment. Or maybe do like London, and start criminal proceedings against fare evaders.

    Julien

    August 14, 2009 at 11:00 am

  5. Just spent some time with taking an English transit consultant over the the old ‘Valley’ interurban line and the subject of turnstiles came up.

    “Want to check fares, hire conductors to roam the trains checking fares. This is what the ‘Tube’ is doing.” was his answer.

    It seems the turnstiles on the various transit lines were there more to apportion fares and zones between bus, tram, metro, and train, rather to compel people to pay.

    The amount of fare evasion on London’s public transportation is still fairly high, despite all the measures taken to collect fares.

    Malcolm J.

    August 14, 2009 at 2:14 pm

  6. Everytime I am in Paris or London I see someone jumping the turnstiles or walking right in behind someone (literally right against them, a rather unpleasant experience for the person) so turnstiles/ gates aren’t the be all. By the same token (bad pun..) Many systems using smart cards —in French LRT for example–don’t have gates/ turnstiles. What they have are roving teams of inspectors that also check all the buses. I see lots of staff hanging around in the trains and on the platforms (both police and other staff in uniforms) yet I am seldom checked. Whenever I am checked it is when there are few passengers…

    Red frog

    August 14, 2009 at 10:34 pm

  7. Talking about financial problems for TransLink..did you see the article in the Vancouver sun on Wednesday, August 12?according to Maureen Bader, from the Canadians taxpayers federation, TransLink is very inefficient and should allow various private companies to compete, as in London..
    http://www.vancouversun.com/business/TransLink+inefficient+organization/1885633/story.html

    I don’t think that she quite knows how this actually works in London.. does she think that on any given route several different bus companies fight for customers by offerent discounts etc.???
    In London, as in many other European towns, private companies (with unionized staff..) run the day-to-day transit operations but–depending on the town and region political set up — the Mayor of the major town in the area, or the President and council of the whole metropolitan area, set the fares, fund the transportation system, plan and fund new lines etc. Unlike TransLink European Transit systems get a big chunk of financial help from various levels of governments and from special business taxes, besides the income from fares. And of course the bigger the town, the more numerous the passengers and the cheaper per km. transit is!!
    Not to mention that transit in London is not exactly cheap..£1032 per year for zones 1-2, £664 per year for any 2 zones not including zone 1.. more of course if one needs a pass covering multiple zones.

    Red frog

    August 14, 2009 at 11:15 pm

  8. I saw the Bader article. I do not see any reason to give that woman’s half baked ideas any wider currency. She thinks tendering will solve our transit problems – but neglects to note that that issue caused a four month transit strike. I do not think we want to repeat that experience – and I see no reason at all while the CAW would back down without a fight. So the issue is moot. We have better things to occupy ourselves with at present.

    Stephen Rees

    August 15, 2009 at 9:31 am

  9. […] [The Globe and Mail] Scenes from the Canada Line bike and pedestrian bridge opening! [Buzzer Blog] No turnstiles for SkyTrains until 2012 [Stephen Rees's Blog] CANADA Our cities and pedestrian malls [City Caucus] Montreal Exports Its […]

    re:place Magazine

    August 15, 2009 at 4:46 pm

  10. Those who wish to evade fares will do so regardless of basic turnstiles or floor-to-ceiling gates. Getting those same individuals to pay a fine is just as unlikely.

    When TransLink does check fares I’m always surprised at the number of ordinary people, some of them very well dressed, who get rounded up. People seem to have realized that fare checks are few and far between and almost never occur during peak hours. I’ve been riding the train every weekday for more than three years and I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve been asked for proof of payment.

    On the other hand, TransLink doesn’t have to worry that too many people are ripping them off because 80% of SkyTrain passengers take a bus to their departure point and fare evasion on the buses seems to be mostly the hard core people who never pay.

    Turnstiles are a PR tool to make the vulnerable feel safer and appease the right wing who see far evasion as some sort of major crime. In reality they do nothing for safety and would cost more to install and maintain than they’d ever yield in fares for TransLink. Uniformed staff checking fares, on the other hand, would actually do something for safety and deter habitual fare evaders from clogging the trains.

    David

    August 15, 2009 at 8:01 pm

  11. Everytime I am in Paris or London I see someone jumping the turnstiles or walking right in behind someone (literally right against them, a rather unpleasant experience for the person) so turnstiles/ gates aren't the be all. By the same token (bad pun..) Many systems using smart cards —in French LRT for example–don't have gates/ turnstiles. What they have are roving teams of inspectors that also check all the buses. I see lots of staff hanging around in the trains and on the platforms (both police and other staff in uniforms) yet I am seldom checked. Whenever I am checked it is when there are few passengers…; Everytime I am in Paris or London I see someone jumping the turnstiles or walking right in behind someone (literally right against them, a rather unpleasant experience for the person) so turnstiles/ gates aren't the be all. By the same token (bad pun..) Many systems using smart cards —in French LRT for example–don't have gates/ turnstiles. What they have are roving teams of inspectors that also check all the buses. I see lots of staff hanging around in the trains and on the platforms (both police and other staff in uniforms) yet I am seldom checked. Whenever I am checked it is when there are few passengers…;;

    [moderator’s note: advertising deleted]

    Eos

    August 15, 2009 at 11:03 pm

  12. I just spent the month of July touring Japan and I can report that turnstiles appear to work very well in that country. You purchase a 10 or 20 dollar plastic card from a machine before you enter the gates and you can also buy an RFID card that gets waved or “swished” over the front of the turnstile and the system effortlessly subtracts your fare depending on how far you travel. The appearance of fareness for all is maintained and the sooner Vancouver installs a similar system the better off everyone will be. Revenues will increase, confidence will improve amongst the honest ones and when they ask me for another 450 million I can be sure that they have tried their best to improve efficiency.
    They should have sent some of their planners to Japan to see how a real system works with real trains on double tracks with high speed expresses and local trains running on the same lines in both directions. After seeing all that and coming back here to revisit the same old turnstile debate I can only shake my head in disgust. Sorry if that upsets some of the people who are proud of all the fine concrete and steel that their tax dollars have purchased.

    Dave Laprise

    August 18, 2009 at 9:47 am

  13. Dave, the payment method (wiped cards or what have you) is a separate issue from turnstiles. I don’t find turnstiles compelling. I have used the Japanese system and found it works pretty well. But there are plenty of successful transit systems without turnstiles.

    I lived in Switzerland for a couple of years. The Swiss are at least on par with Japan, having one of the best most comprehensive rail transit systems in the world. I don’t recall ever encountering a turnstile. Buses, trams, and trains all operate like our Skytrain. For the honest traveller (prejudice against transit users to the contrary, the vast majority are honest), not having to deal with a gate is a real convenience. When traveling with luggage (in Toronto, London, Japan) I have found the gates were a real pain. It is not practical to have staff and swing gates at every exit. I also have a strong suspicion that people trust and help each other more when they operate in a system based on respect and trust rather than fencing and control.

    However, public perception is important. If the attitudes I see in comments elsewhere (e.g. CBC) are representative, it seems that they may be necessary from a public relations point of view. I can accept that logic. But in practical terms I think they are a bad idea.

    Geof

    August 18, 2009 at 12:33 pm

  14. Good point Geof,
    Unfortunately comparing Canada to Europe or Asia is a little bit apples and oranges due to the suburbia effect with the spread out population. It is much harder to get the economies of scale. I suppose I should be happy we have come this far with the system we have.

    Dave Laprise

    August 19, 2009 at 7:03 pm

  15. Not at all. Large conurbations with spread out suburbs are common in Europe too. In the case of Greater London, the green belt stopped sprawl at roughly the point it had got to in 1939, but the growth simply leapfrogged over the green belt and kept going. Higher speed trains mean that people simply commute longer distances. And the distances that commuters travel into Central London are actually longer (on average) than Vancouver.

    The real difference between us and most of mainland Europe is that we have different legal systems. In countries like Germany and France it is a lot easier to impose a fixed penalty on someone found to be riding without a ticket than it is here. The greatest weakness in our system is when people are caught, there is no penalty collected. “Frequent flyers” have discovered that even if the court imposes a fine, there is no effort put into collection.

    Stephen Rees

    August 19, 2009 at 7:11 pm

  16. I am really interested in finding out the relative popularity of turnstiles. A friend visited Calgary from Toronto and was shocked that there was no physical barriers to prevent people from simply walking onto the LRT. I have to been to many cities where it is the same as Calgary, and not so many that had physical access control like Toronto and Montreal.

    Anyone have an idea?

    Michael

    April 20, 2010 at 7:17 pm


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